Nikola Jokic received his MVP award before Game 3 on Friday night, an official recognition that the Denver Nuggets star is the top player in the NBA this season.
The Phoenix Suns promptly showed they are the better team with a convincing win following the ceremony. Phoenix now leads the series 3-0 and has a chance to close out the Nuggets with a win in Game 4 in Denver on Sunday night.
"This is the first time I've been up 3-0 in a series," Suns guard Chris Paul said after the 116-102 win on Friday night. "Even though it's 3-0, as long as that team is being led by Mike Malone that team over there is going to keep fighting."
Malone, the Nuggets' head coach, has an uphill battle on his hands. Not only is his team in a hole that no other team has crawled out of -- 142 teams have held a 3-0 lead in a series and all have advanced -- none of the games in this series have been close.
But Malone isn't ready to concede yet.
"I know for myself, I can't speak for anyone else, the last thing I want to see is the Phoenix Suns pushing a broom across our court after Game 4," Malone said. "We have had a tremendous season. Tremendous. I said going into this year you can't judge a season by the end result. We got to the Western Conference finals last year, certain things can happen, but we can have a better season this year but not get as far."
The problem for Denver is the talent level. The Phoenix backcourt duo of Paul and Devin Booker has completely outplayed the Nuggets' guards. Paul is averaging 17.7 points and 11.3 assists, and Booker is averaging 23.6 points in the series.
Denver was able to overcome the loss of Jamal Murray against Portland in the first round but the rotation of Facu Campazzo, Austin Rivers and Monte Morris has been overmatched against the Suns. Those three came up big in the six games against the Trail Blazers but have been neutralized by Phoenix.
Jokic has done what he can, including an historic performance after receiving his award. His 32 points, 20 rebounds and 10 assists put him in lofty company, joining Wilt Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the only players to have at least 30 points, 20 rebounds and 10 assists in an NBA playoff game.
"He's carrying us," Morris said of Jokic. "We've got to help him."
The Suns have held everyone around Jokic in check. Aaron Gordon struggled Friday night with just four points on 2-of-10 shooting and Michael Porter Jr. has averaged just 13.7 points in the series.
Phoenix is not satisfied despite the 3-0 lead and a six-game playoff winning streak.
"We've experienced one (closeout game) already," Booker said. "Knowing those guys aren't going to give up. They've got the MVP of the league over there, they're well coached by Mike Malone and they've got some players that play very hard. Nobody ever wants their season to end, so we know they're going to give it their shot and we're prepared for that."
--Field Level Media